It’s a drug that can either put recovery within reach or result in an even worse situation than heroin and painkiller addiction. Methadone is arguably most well-known for its use in replacement therapy, but it still has a high potential for abuse. On the other hand, even when it’s used appropriately, those in methadone maintenance programs are still chemically dependent, which is why methadone remains such a controversial drug.
Whether it’s from abuse or replacement therapy, methadone addiction occurs much more frequently than one might think. Fortunately, Malvern Institute can provide a well-rounded, high-quality program, ensuring that those who have become addicted to methadone have the resources they need to get sober. But first, let’s take a closer look at methadone so we can learn what methadone actually is and what makes it so dangerous.
What is Methadone?
On the cusp of the twenty-first century, the release of OxyContin triggered a mass opiate addiction epidemic that we still deal with to this day. With so many people becoming addicted to opiates, we began looking for treatment options everywhere we could. This led to the use of methadone as a treatment for opiate addiction. Methadone was actually developed in 1939 in Germany. Within a few decades, methadone made its way to the United States and was used as a painkiller; however, the drug’s properties and effects were poorly understood until research on its efficacy as a maintenance drug. In fact, it was the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City that began dosing heroin addicts with methadone in an attempt to keep them sober in the 1960s. Sure enough, methadone was found to be effective for this use and it continues to be one of the main maintenance drugs in use.
Methadone is an opioid analgesic that can be used to treat pain; however, it’s most well-known for its use in the treatment of opioid addiction. When a patient who is addicted to heroin or painkillers chooses a methadone maintenance program, he or she begins receiving daily doses of methadone. Methadone is known to have a rather long half-life for an opioid, which is why it takes a period of several days of taking the drug daily for it to reach its peak level of effect. When a person has reached the peak level of effect, he or she is considered to be on a stable dose of methadone. In this state, the methadone binds to his or her opioid receptors, which prevents him or her from experiencing withdrawals while also satisfying any cravings he or she would otherwise be having; however, methadone is different from other opioids in that it doesn’t offer the same level of euphoria, so patients on a stable dose of methadone don’t get intoxicated, or “high”, from the drug like they would on other opioids, and the methadone actually blocks the effects of other opioids to an extent. Once stabilized, an individual can either continue methadone maintenance indefinitely or begin a methadone taper, which means steadily decreasing dosage until he or she is no longer physically dependent on opioids.
Even though it’s primarily used as a treatment for opiate addiction, there’s still some methadone that’s diverted to unauthorized channels. In other words, users are able to obtain methadone on the street for the purposes of abuse. This is an unfortunate situation because, while methadone has proven to be effective as a maintenance drug, it can be quite dangerous and even more addictive than opiates when misused.
Why Methadone is Dangerous
Like all other opioids, there are certain dangers with methadone, which is why patients in methadone maintenance programs must consume their daily doses under medical supervision, requiring them to visit their treatment facilities every single day. In spite of evidence showing that methadone maintenance is effective in treatment opioid addiction, it can have dangerous reactions with a number of other substances. In particular, combining methadone with benzodiazepines like Xanax and Valium has proven to be lethal; therefore, methadone maintenance programs require patients to take regular drug screens to assure that they’re abiding by the rules of the program. And like any other opioid, there’s also a risk of overdose, especially when methadone is combined with other opioids.
Methadone is most effective as a maintenance drug once a patient has reached his or her stable dosage and is taking this same amount of methadone every day. At this point, he or she isn’t experiencing euphoria like with heroin and painkillers, and the consistent intake of methadone allows the drug to block other opioids if an individual were to attempt to use heroin or painkillers while on methadone. However, methadone is still part of the opioid family and has potential for abuse. Due to the amount of methadone that’s sold to substance abusers on the street, it’s not uncommon for individuals who abuse methadone recreationally to become addicted to the drug. While not quite as dangerous as addictions to alcohol or benzodiazepines, methadone addiction presents a level of danger due to the drug’s exceptionally long half-life. In short, this means that those who have been misusing methadone for a period of time are likely to experience severe withdrawal symptoms for much longer than he or she would experience with heroin and painkillers.
Overcoming Methadone Addiction at Malvern Institute
When used appropriately, methadone can be quite effective at helping individuals overcome addictions to heroin, painkillers, and other opioids. In fact, although they’ve proven to be controversial, methadone maintenance programs have allowed many people addicted to opioids to regain a level of independence and health, freeing them from the constant need to seek and consume dangerous opioids that cost them their jobs, relationships, financial stability, and so on. It’s true that people in methadone maintenance programs are still chemically dependent, but the difference between methadone maintenance and active opioid addiction are night and day.
On the other hand, the misuse of methadone does occur, which leaves a number of individuals addicted to an extremely powerful opioid; however, there are resources available to help those who have become addicted to methadone. At Malvern Institute, we offer a unique recovery model that guides patients through the continuum of care; the Malvern Model of Care begins with detoxification, followed by induction, inpatient care, and ending with outpatient treatment; upon completion of our program, individuals have regained their health and acquired the skills necessary to sustain their sobriety. We encourage program graduates to become part of our alumni and aftercare programs, allowing us to be an ongoing resource as graduates progress into more advanced stages of recovery.
If you would like to learn more about methadone addiction treatment at Malvern Institute, or for any other questions you may have, call us anytime at 610.MALVERN (610.625.8376).